Vet denied care prompts response from Isakson

Georgia Republican U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson said he is looking into the case of Iraq war veteran Chris Dorsey, who was turned away from two U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs clinics in northern Georgia when he sought help for post-traumatic stress disorder.

“It is incomprehensible to me that any VA clinic would turn away a veteran — especially one seeking mental health care — without offering alternative options,” Isakson said in an email to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution Wednesday. “I … will raise this with the Secretary of the VA.”

Isakson is chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee.

Dorsey, 33, attracted national attention after he recorded his second rejection Tuesday at the VA Oakwood Community Based Outpatient Clinic on his smartphone camera and posted the video on Facebook and YouTube. First reported in the Military Times, his account joins a long list of stories from around the country involving long waits for vets seeking care from VA facilities.

In the video, Dorsey asks a front desk clerk for a transfer from the Athens VA system and an appointment. The clerk says the clinic is not accepting new patients. No further assistance is offered.

Dorsey is heard leaving in frustration, slamming the door and commenting about the number of veterans suicides estimated by VA to occur each day.

“It’s devastating for me to go in to two places and say I’m here to get help and they are essentially saying, ‘I’m not going to help you,’” Dorsey, a former Army specialist who served as a cavalry scout from 2001 to 2005 and was deployed to Iraq for most of 2003, told the Military Times.

The video is intended to show what veterans go through when they try to get help at VA, said Dorsey, whose Facebook profile says he lives in Athens. He could not be reached by the AJC Wednesday. Dorsey said he had been previously turned away at the VA clinic in Lawrenceville, prompting him to bring his camera to the Oakwood facility.

In an emailed statement sent to the AJC, the VA said, “The message Mr. Dorsey was given, as seen on the video, is completely unacceptable and will not be tolerated.”

The VA last year introduced a program — VA Choice — that allows Dorsey to see a civilian therapist, but no employees at the Lawrenceville and Oakwood clinics mentioned it.

“VA staff should have established a full understanding of Mr. Dorsey’s medical situation and determined if an appointment was available for him at another location or if he was eligible for the Choice Program and could be seen outside of VA,” the VA said in the statement.

“Leadership at the Atlanta VA Medical Center are reaching out to Mr. Dorsey now to determine his need for services and to offer the appropriate care. Facility officials are implementing a plan to re-train front line staff in the appropriate way to inform Veterans about the options they have available to them.”

Members of Congress, including Isakson, have been pressing VA officials to improve care for vets suffering from PTSD, so Dorsey’s account comes at a particularly bad time for the beleaguered federal agency.

In a Facebook post, Dorsey thanked supporters but said, “The sad part is now I’m getting emails from other vets that are receiving the same lack of treatment from our local VA. I’m glad to know it’s not just me but I’m very angry it’s not just me. Hopefully we can ban together and change this.”

The VA, including the Atlanta facility in DeKalb County, has faced a series of problems in recent years.

With other VA facilities, it has been heavily criticized for the the long waits many veterans have had to endure before receiving care, and the harmful impact it may have on them.

The AJC found that more than 500 veterans were on a waiting list to receive mental health care in 2010. Sixteen attempted suicide.

Earlier this year, Isakson said, “We have had challenges with mental health, particularly with veterans’ suicide rates, and we have had a lot of problems with construction costs within the department, so you could look back and say this agency is a mess.”